by Amy Neiman, LMSW
Finding the right way to speak with a child or teenager about death, war or terrible uncertainty is not easy. It is our job as parents to reassure our children even when we ourselves are feeling vulnerable. We want to be truthful but not give them more information than they need or can digest. We want to create a feeling of safety but also instill in them an understanding of our imperfect world.
It is a difficult balance, and it can be helpful to have a few general guidelines. Below are some tips to guide you in these conversations.
- Start by asking your child if they have heard the news and if so, what do they know about it. Correct any misinformation your child has heard.
- Ask them how they feel about it. Reassure your child that all feelings are ok. Being scared, angry, anxious, or surprised are all normal things to feel.
- Use age-appropriate language.
- Answer your child’s questions, without going into extensive detail. Remember it is always ok to say, “I don’t know.”
- If possible, focus on what people are doing to help others. Mr. Rogers said it best, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” And maybe think about how you could help as a family.
- Monitor television and social media exposure, and be mindful of your conversations around the children, too. If you have a teen with a phone, this is a lot harder to do, so you may need to ask them what they are seeing on the sites they visit.
- Continue to check in. As with any difficult conversation, this is not a ‘one and done’ talk. Revisit and check in on your child in a couple of days to see how they are feeling. Ask what else have they heard. Remind them that you are there for them.
A friend told me that one of the scariest parts of a crisis is the lack of control we have as bystanders. This is very true, but we do have control of how we navigate the conversation with our children. We can validate their feelings and give them time to express their fears and ask questions.
CJFS Licensed Clinical Social Workers provide confidential professional counseling for people of all ages, including children and teens. For more information, visit CJFS Counseling. For appointments, call 205.879.3438.